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Healthier diets can mean more wasted food

The study found fruits and vegetables were the category of food Americans throw away the most.

In the U.S., we waste about a pound of food per person per day. The things we throw away the most often? Fruits and vegetables.

Lisa Jahns is a research nutritionist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. She’s an author of a new study looking at American diets and what we throw away.

“Healthier diets were linked to greater food waste,” she says.

She explains that they looked at “plate waste,” for example, not something you would throw away normally, like a banana peel, but the actual banana on your plate that you don’t eat, and throw in the trash.

“With about 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this wasted food, and it also accounts for about 30% percent of the daily calories available for consumption,” she says.

Jahns says they used dietary intake data from the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s collected every year on about 5,000 people. Researchers ask people what they ate over the past 24 hours.

She says after fruits and vegetables (about 39% of food waste), dairy products (17% of waste) and meat dishes (13%) were the foods people wasted the most.

“I can tell you for myself, it was kind of eye opening and it’s made me much more conscientious of what’s in my crisper,” says Jahns. “It’s kind of a delicate balance between following dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, which requires purchasing more of them but while also wasting less of them.”

Jahns says one caveat with this study is that people tend to under-report the “bad” foods they eat. She says it’s just human nature.

“People tend to sometimes over-report the ‘good foods’ such as fruits and vegetables so we might be overestimating the loss,” she says.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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